School Of Seven Bells @ The Hi-Fi, 23.06.2012

The last time I saw School of Seven Bells was when they were still playing as a three piece and played on the Centre Stage straight after My Bloody Valentine at the MBV-curated Nightmare Before Xmas. How I wish it could have been the same order of proceedings at The Hi-Fi tonight.

With no information made available regarding set times, but with previous experience telling us it’s going to be a late one, we get to the venue to find that everyone is playing fairly early, very early for a Saturday night. The set times are earlier than I some of the mid-week shows I’ve to at The Hi-Fi. Tara Simmons has already been and gone (playing at 8:10pm) and although it’s just a few minutes after nine, Little Scout have already started.

Although there’s a few photographers walking around the front of the Hi-Fi (there’s no photo pit tonight), with the combination of them already playing, not knowing how far through their first three songs they are and the usual Hi-Fi poor lighting, I don’t photograph them. Little Scout are one of those bands that you can’t hate but also can’t really get all that excited about. I think a recent live review referred to them some thing along the lines of ‘Librarian Rock’. They’ve must have friends in high places as they’ve become the indie band of choice to support some high profile acts. They’re also one of the very few Brisbane bands I know of that have done a whole tour support and not just the local show, with three dates on this tour, taking in Sydney and Melbourne in addition to a hometown show, to go with the national support slot when The New Pornographers last toured Australia. Watching them tonight, they’re once again ok but nothing to write home about; fairly bog standard indie, with a sideline in the obligatory auxiliary drumming and percussion that’s been omnipresent in indie music in recent years. If there is one major annoyance, it’s that they’ve become one of those bands that I keep seeing time and time again without really wanting to see time and time again. When it’s a band you like, it’s always enjoyable (although I struggle to think of a band that I really like and who get plenty of support slots) but less so when it’s an act that you’re nonplussed about.

When I last saw SVIIB in Brisbane, when they played at The Zoo in 2009, I made the comment that the use of a drum machine and bass backing track meant that the songs sounded just about identical to the record and mulled over whether they normally played with a full band or whether playing as a three piece was just a sensible and obvious money saving option for touring overseas. It sounded good but sterile and I considered that from a musical point of view you may well have just stayed at home and listened to the album on the stereo. I concluded that “they would benefit substantially from a looser arrangement and structure, one that allows them to expand and explore, really take their sublime, dreamy, ethereal harmonised vocals to a new level, instead of being hindered by the strictness and military rigidity of the drum machine and backing tracks they’re using“.

This time around the band has expanded to a four piece, a new keyboard player/vocalist to replace Claudia Deheza and a drummer and they are a whole lot better for it. There’s still some obvious backing track loops and drum machine patterns but the band aren’t as restricted as they were before and the songs feel looser and more jammed out. It’s more natural and a whole lot less sterile than their last Brisbane show. I spend a large portion of the gig trying to figure out how it works as the drummer isn’t wearing headphones and there’s no audible click track that he’s playing along to.

SVIIB are at their best tonight when they play songs that build up a 1990s shoegaze wall of sound. The downside to tonight is that it really makes me want to see My Bloody Valentine again. There had been rumours that they were going to play this year’s Harvest, but this didn’t eventuate. While they would have been a much better headliner than Beck (I’m slightly amazed that people are excited to see Beck in 2012), in a way I’m glad they’re not playing an outdoor festival as they are a band that you really need to see inside. There’s no way playing on an outdoor stage could ever do justice to the extreme indoor volume levels of The Holocaust experience. On the subject of sound, the sound is a lot better than usual at The Hi-Fi so I’m not sure if they’ve done something to improve it in recent months.

One depressing observation is that it’s clear a large number of complimentary tickets have been given out. Although there’s a fairly reasonable crowd there at the start of their set, by the end of the night, some 80 or so minutes later, they’re only playing to about half as many people. It’s a shame as it’s a really enjoyable gig, one of my favourite shows from the year.  In the end it turns out somewhat bittersweet, with it being the last show I cover for Rave and the last gig photo that gets printed in the magazine.

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